Queensland: Beautiful one day, terrible the next.
Just a month after NSW inflicted back to back Origin series defeats for the first time since 2005, Queenslanders have endured their worst weekend in premiership history after the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans lost by a combined 112 points.
Unless Brisbane recover to make the finals, it will be the first season that no Queensland team has featured in the play-offs for 28 years and the worst finish by clubs based north of the Tweed River since the Broncos and Gold Coast Giants joined the competition in 1988.
While the results are unlikely to temper calls for another Brisbane team to become the NRL’s 17th club when the current broadcast deal expires in 2022, there would be concern about how quickly stocks have fallen in Queensland.
Suddenly the idea of taking an NRL grand final to Suncorp Stadium when ANZ Stadium and Allianz Stadium are both out of action seems a risk as it is unknown whether Brisbane fans would embrace a Telstra Premiership decider if no team from Queensland was involved.
For 12 years, Queensland laid claim to being the game’s heartland as the Maroons dominated Origin from 2006 to 2017, losing just one series in 2014.
However, the Blues have now won back-to-back series under the coaching of Brad Fittler as Queensland struggle to overcome the loss of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis.
While Thurston, who led the Cowboys to the 2015 premiership, was the only member of the superstar quintet who played for a Queensland club, the Maroons' Origin decline has coincided with a downturn at each of the state’s three NRL teams.
The Titans sacked coach Garth Brennan just three weeks ago but results have only gotten worse, while the Broncos face the genuine possibility of missing the finals in their first season after forcing Wayne Bennett out the door and luring Anthony Seibold from South Sydney.
Brisbane finished sixth last season under Bennett but the squad has changed dramatically since Seibold took over, with Kodi Nikorima, Josh McGuire, James Roberts and Jayden Su’a all allowed to depart and fullback Darius Boyd swapping positions with five-eighth Anthony Milford.
Seibold suggested after last Friday night’s 40-4 defeat by the Storm that the Broncos would face an extensive review at the end of the season and Titans players are also set to come under scrutiny from incoming coach Justin Holbrook after being humbled 58-6 by Sydney Roosters on Sunday.
Cowboys coach Paul Green is set to eclipse Graham Murray as the club’s longest serving coach in round four next season but after four consecutive finals campaigns and an inaugural premiership under his charge, North Queensland have now missed the play-offs in back-to-back seasons.
After being linked with a move to Brisbane, Green last year agreed to a contract extension with the Cowboys until the end of the 2021 season.
WEEKEND OF WOE
The Cowboys' 28-4 loss to the Wests Tigers last Thursday night put paid to the club’s slim finals hopes and started a weekend of blow-out scorelines across the NRL as the premiership contenders separated themselves from the pretenders.
With a loss by 18 points or more considered a blow-out, it was the most lopsided round of matches since 2016 as five of the eight games fell into that category. In addition, Cronulla beat Souths 39-24.
However, Round 20 was worse in the Sunshine State as it featured the heaviest defeats inflicted on the three Queensland clubs in the same weekend, with a combined losing margin of 112 points.
The only previous rounds in which three Queensland teams suffered blow-out losses were:
- Round 11, 1995 when Penrith beat Gold Coast Seagulls 48-24, Newcastle thrashed North Queensland 44-14 and Manly defeated Brisbane 23-4, and;
- Round 22, 1996 when Canterbury beat the Cowboys 50-22, North Sydney defeated Gold Coast Chargers 38-8 and Canberra triumphed 36-10 against South Queensland Crushers.
The Morris twins, Brett (three) and Josh (one), scored more tries last weekend than the three Queensland teams combined.
Brisbane have slumped to 10th position on 19 points after their loss to Melbourne but have a favourable run home according to the Strength of Schedule calculated by NRL.com Stats.
The Broncos play North Queensland (away), Penrith (home), Souths (home), Parramatta (home) and Canterbury (away) in their remaining matches as they try to overhaul the Tigers, Sharks and Panthers for a top eight berth.
If Brisbane don’t make the play-offs, it will be the first time that no Queensland team has featured in the finals since 1991.
Since then the Broncos have only missed the finals in 2013 under Anthony Griffin and 2010 after Ivan Henjak took over from Bennett.
However, the Titans flew the flag for Queensland clubs in 2010 when they finished fourth, while the Cowboys were eighth in 2013.
Bennett failed to steer the Broncos to the finals in the first two years of the club’s history, as well as 1991 but they would have qualified if the current top eight play-off format had been in existence.
Brisbane finished seventh of 16 teams in 1988 with a top five finals system operating and lost a fifth-place play-off to Cronulla in 1989 after both teams finished the regular season on equal points. The Broncos were again seventh in 1991 after the play-offs were expanded to a top six.